CPU Guide

AMD Phenom X3 8750 review

AMD's Triple-Core Phenom - X3 8750

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Triple Core or Tripe?

Triple Core or Tripe?

By now, we're pretty sure that you have heard the whole litany of woes that have beset AMD, the other microprocessor company that's not Intel. A resurgent Intel has quickly eclipsed the inroads AMD had achieved in the past few years in both the server and enthusiast segments and AMD's own engineering issues have delayed the roll out of its latest 'Barcelona' processors.

Recent events have brought the company back into the limelight and not for the better. Yes, AMD was back in the news recently, with its CTO Phil Hester stepping down from his post only days after the company announced that it was reducing its global workforce by up to 10%. AMD also revised revenue forecasts for the first quarter of the year amidst lower than expected sales. While AMD has dismissed the resignation as unrelated to its troubles, the timing has not been kind to the company.

Simply put, AMD is suffering from the fact that its new 'Barcelona' processors built on the K10 architecture are unable to keep up with Intel's offerings in terms of performance and power efficiency despite boasting numerous technological achievements. These native quad-core chips, which were supposed to be key to stopping the rot, were plagued by a TLB bug that can cause the processor to freeze in certain calculations. Obviously this was a big no-no for server grade Opteron chips, though the errata was unlikely to occur in most consumer computing scenarios. (Hence you can still find these affected chips in OEM channels.) The consumer equivalent Phenom processors were also similarly affected before AMD officially released a new B3 stepping of the chips that finally fixes the issue. These fixed processors are differentiated with the '50' in their model numbers.

With the TLB bug resolved, AMD can now focus on executing their previously announced plan of a triple-core Phenom. Basically a Phenom X4 that didn't make the grade and hence reissued with a core disabled, these new Phenom X3 processors allow AMD to broaden its processor range into the mainstream segment and compete against dual-core offerings from Intel. At the same time, salvaging these formerly quad-core Phenoms will mean less waste, leading to 'improved manufacturing yields' of sorts. The burning question of course is whether these tri-core processors can overcome the lackluster showing of its quad-core counterparts, when pitted against 'lesser opposition' in the form of Intel's dual-core processors.

Specifications wise, the Phenom X3 is exactly what you'll expect of a Phenom X4, with one less working core. It is based on the K10 architecture, with a similar number of transistors (450 million) squeezed into a die size of 285mm². AMD has not yet transitioned to 45nm like Intel and the clock speeds on the X3 remain less than competitive against Intel's higher-end processors, which have already gone beyond 3.0GHz (even on their older 65nm parts). The top X3 model that we'll be looking at today, the Phenom X3 8750 is clocked at a relatively moderate 2.4GHz when compared to Intel processors, but it is only 100MHz slower than the flagship Phenom X4 9850 'Black Edition' so at the moment, that's the ball park where the clock speeds of the Barcelona are at.

Aware of the underlying performance discrepancy between its processors and Intel's, which we have covered in some detail here and here, AMD is playing a slightly different game by linking these Phenom X3 processors as part of its mainstream 'Cartwell' platform. Consisting of an AMD 780G motherboard with integrated graphics and the Phenom X3 processor, AMD's argument centers on how the combined cost of these two components are less expensive than the Intel equivalent: an Intel G33 motherboard and a Core 2 Duo processor. Obviously, this 'value' card is something to ponder, especially for system builders, but for the purpose of this review, we'll only be comparing the processors head-to-head and their price/performance proposition.

On that note, the table below summarizes the X3 processors that AMD is launching today in retail:

AMD Phenom X3 8000 Processor Lineup
Processor Model / Processor Characteristics Clock Speed L2 Cache L3 Cache HyperTransport Bus Memory Controller Speed Max TDP (W) Estimated Price (US$)
Phenom X3 8750 2.4GHz 512KB x 3 2MB 1.8GHz 1.8GHz 95 $195
Phenom X3 8650 2.3GHz 512KB x 3 2MB 1.8GHz 1.8GHz 95 $165
Phenom X3 8450 2.1GHz 512KB x 3 2MB 1.8GHz 1.8GHz 95 $145